NI Assembly: Chris Heaton-Harris to extend election deadline again

  • By Jayne McCormack
  • BBC News NI political correspondent

Image source, Liam McBurney

Image caption,

Northern Ireland’s devolved government has not sat since it collapsed in February 2022

The deadline to hold an assembly election if there is no executive formed is to be extended until 8 February.

The very short extension will provide more time as the DUP is yet to decide whether to return to power sharing.

The party has been blocking devolved government since February 2022 over post-Brexit trade rules for NI.

It is facing pressure to say if it will back a deal to end the 23-month impasse at Stormont.

The most recent legal deadline expired last week, with no breakthrough as yet in talks between the DUP and the government.

Legislation to be fast tracked

In the absence of a decision being taken by the DUP, the government must legislate to push back a requirement for fresh assembly elections and forming an executive.

Legislation to do that is to be fast tracked through the Commons on Wednesday, Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said.

The government has already passed similar legislation on several occasions.

“Tomorrow I will be introducing the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill to allow for the reformation of Stormont,” Mr Heaton-Harris added.

“The bill only has a single clause: to extend the period of time Stormont can legitimately come back until the 8 February.

“I am committed to restoring devolution and significant progress has been made towards that objective. I believe that this bill, with the constrained timescales, will be sufficient.”

The Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris has previously indicated that even if Stormont is not restored by the deadline, he will not seek to call another election and would instead “legislate to protect public services”.

Some parties have questioned what that would look like, insisting that there can be no return to direct rule from London and that the Irish government would have to play a bigger consultative role.

Even once a decision is taken by DUP officers on whether to back a deal, Sir Jeffrey has given a guarantee to his party executive – which is made up of more than 100 members – that they will be able to discuss any decision made.

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